Rurrenabaque & the Madidi National Park


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Published: June 13th 2013
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La Paz to Rurre


Sorry folks, a lot of photo's and words in this entry...

We were not feeling all that crash hot in La Paz, be it from some food we ate, the altitude, or the fact that we were staying in a hostel with a microbrewery attached... So we decided to forgo biking down the world's most dangerous road until later, and head down to Rurrenebaque, to visit the Amazon for the first time. The thinking was that a warm climate and so fresh food would do us the world of good. It sorted me out, but not mojo...

The flight out of La Paz was at 10am, enough time to make sure the planes were flying at that time (as in previous days the early flight were delayed due to freezing conditions), and we thought enough time to get up early and pack after a good night's sleep. However, drinking copious amounts of beer and playing pool until the wee hours is not conducive to this. Waking up to a frigid morning with a hangover and having to pack bags is not much fun, but checking the internet and seeing NSW winning the state of Origin helped. Our plane out of La Paz was a 17 seater, with the roofs so low that you have to bend in double to walk down the aisles. It was one seat on either side of the aisle and a perfect view through the cockpit.

After a short climb, we found ourselves flying above the glacial capped mountains that surround La Paz, and in some cases below the peaks of some mountains. Which was an amazing, yet daunting feeling all at once. Then very quickly the view changed to jagged, densely forested mountains that were sometimes broken by a river weaving its way through. It was the most spectacular flight i have been on, but it was over so quickly, 45 minutes it lasted. The same distance would have taken 24 hours in a bus along one of the scariest routes in South America.

The landing was on a short ashphalt runway, which quickly turned into grass as the plane taxied into the shack that was the airport. Rugged up to the eyeballs in warm gear, we were soon stripping off layers as the hot, thick humid air assaulted us. The bus ride into town was on a bumpy road surrounded by palm thatched houses and chickens running rampant. Our hostel was a sweaty 15 minute walk from the drop off point, but our room was available to allow us to strip off into shorts and thongs. Starving, we ventured back into town, from where the latest 'adventure' began. We had what tasted like a nice lunch, but shortly after Mojo was not feeling good. Later that night she was able to hit a bullseye from 10 metres from both ends at the same time, and was up all night spontaneously combusting. I have the guts made from a plastic bag in this relationship, so it was always thought that i would be the one to get really sick on this trip. But mojo, of the cast iron mould was completely destroyed, the poor bugger...

By morning at least she had stopped from one end, but was still able to thread the eye of a needle from the other. We were booked to go into the Madidi National Park for 4 days, starting that morning, but luckily our very understanding tour owner allowed us to delay the trip. I rushed into town to the pharmacy to see what i could get and managed to get some pills that would stop the vomiting and to treat the stomach infection. After a full 24 hours of rest, mojo was feeling better so we decided to head into the jungle.

It was a 3.5hr ride up the Beni and then Tuichi rivers in a motorised dugout canoe to get to the ecolodge that we were staying at. It was upstream, and at times it would have been quicker to walk. In places the boat went over shallow rapids with mini whirlpools dotted, as well as many obstacles from the massive trees that had been swept down in the rainy season a few months before. The jungle on either side of the river was so dense that it was not possible to see in more then a few metres. Even above the roar of the 2 stroke engine, the sound of the insects was deafening.

Our ecolodge was beautiful. I had done a lot of research and made sure that we were going to stay in a place that was not only a proper ecolodge and respected the nature, but also one that created employment for the indigenous people of the Madidi national park and fed back into their society by creating money for schools etc... There were two other aussie couples, Sam and Johno, and Jake and Alex, and an English couple Paul and Sharon already there, having started the day before when we were also due to begin our stay. After a fantastic lunch, one of the best we have had in Bolivia, mojo and I were off on a 4 hr walk through the jungle with our guide Raul. Soon it was apparent that mojo had not recovered as well as she thought she had, and was soon sweating profusely like a fat business man in a sauna. Seriously, she was dripping everywhere and every ounce of clothing was drenched. This of course was not helped by the fact that it was 100% humidity under the canopy. Raul was a bit worried, but we were half way in and could not turn around. Soon there was a deep, unnerving roar/rumble and i quickly turned around expecting it to be mojo's stomach, but it was a male howler monkey, some 1km away making sure that everyone knew he was king of this area. Raul excitedly made us walk at quick pace to track the howler down, even though they are the laziest monkey in the Jungle, not moving much at all. We were soon under a massive tree that stretched some 30-40 metres above us where the male howler was letting out these ungodly sounds, with his clan/group looking inquisitivley at us, and at one stage, one the younger monkeys snapped off a branch and threw it at us!

By this stage Mojo was really struggling, and this was not made easier by the fact that we walked up to a clay lick where 10's of wild pigs were slurping down the clay in order to get their intake of salts and minerals. The pigs stank, and soon we had to move on in order for mojo not to start barfing again. However, shortly after we startled a massive group of wild pigs, more then 200 of them, and they tore through the jungles some 10 metres in front us, snorting and snapping their teeth in warning and discreeting the most vile smell from glands in their back. We were so amazed and overwhelmed by the smell that we forgot to take any photo's or video, even though it went on for 10 minutes or so as the last of the group cleared off. With the stink of the beasts well up our noses, mojo was really struggling, so we hightailed it back to the lodge.

Another lovely meal was served, but not for mojo who was suffering badly. I soon found out that Jake and Alex were doctors, and Sam and Johno nurses, so all sorts of discussion about the best medicine to take was offered. But the locals suggested an Amazon remedy made from the bark of a special tree and some honey bees, that would flush out the infection. Mojo opted for the local remedy. While she was sipping on this, we were alerted by one of the guides that he had stumbled across a boa constrictor while going for a slash. Of course i didn't have my camera on me, but the snake was beautiful. It was a rainbow boa, around 2m long with an amazing pattern on him, that went a rainbow blue when the light was shone at the right angle.

As we only had lights for 2 hours while the generator was running it was an early night to bed. Once the lights were off it was absolutely pitch black, so dark that you could not see your hand in front of your face. It was also when the sounds of the jungle came out, from the clicking and buzzing of insects to the sound of Tapir's barging there way through the undergrowth. Luckily we had a mossie net so fine that it was not possible blow out a candle 10 cm away, so we fell into a peaceful sleep (or at least until mojo had to venture outside to do her thing....)

The next morning found mojo no better as we awoke to a thick mist enclosing the jungle.I went into the jungle with Raul for a 4hr walk, where we chased a group of spider monkey's for an hour. These guys are the Ferrari of the jungle, constantly moving at pace swinging effortlessly form tree to tree, using their long tails as a fifth hand. They got so quick and too far off the trail at one stage, that Raul told me to give him my camera and stay put while he chased them down for a good photo, chopping bits of plants as he went so he could find me on the way back. As i stood there in the jungle for 20 minutes or so waiting for him, it really sunk in how the the hell i would not want to be in here trekking alone. It is so dense that very little light comes in, and everything looks the same, there is no way in determining which way is which. After some calling, Raul did find me and we made our way back to the lodge, once again startling a large herd of stinky pigs and seeing many humming birds no bigger then my thumb, as well as these bugs that sound like a B52 bomber flying past. With my equipment it is near impossible to take photo's, using an aperture of 2.8 and an ISO of 1600, the quickest shutter speed you can get is 30...

That afternoon we made some rings out of nuts that went from a dull brown to a glossy black with a lot of sand paper and elbow grease. However by nightfall poor mojo was still bed-ridden as i tucked into another faultless meal, and she some more amazon tea. Paul had a bottle of nice rum which i helped him drink, helping us to get to sleep at 9pm. This time mojo made it through the night without venturing outside, so things looked promising. However, with morning the nausea returned and i once again went out with Raul by myself. We did not see much that day, apart from pigs and some amazing butterfly's, and a dragonfly that looks and fly's like a butterfly. It was a hot, sweaty 4.5hr trek through the jungle and i really stank by the end of it, as you have to be fully clothed to ensure not getting mauled by bugs as well as not brushing against some plant that will either eat you, or give you a nasty infection. We made the decision to leave a day early along with the others, as although mojo was getting slowly better, she would not be in a state to do anything exertive on our last day. And it is not much fun (let alone feeling guilty) doing it by myself.

We have been back in Rurre 2 days now, hanging out with Paul and Sharon who are good fun. They are a couple in their early 40's who have travelled the world, spending the last 14 months in Sucre, Bolivia, volunteering as well as travelling the continent. Yesterday we got a white knuckled motorbike taxi ride up into the foothills of the mountains surrounding Rurre, where there was supposed to be a nice place with a great lookout, swimming pool and restaurant. Instead we found a place that did have great views, but was full of young Israeli backpackers treating the place like Ibiza, with a shirtless, fat old Israeli man (the owner) trying to be a DJ and look cool. That day, more then ever i realised that i have transitioned between age groups. Today we went to Paul and Sharon's hotel/resort and used their pool and drank beer all day and into the night. Much more our scene.

The stories that Paul has told me about Nicuragua, as well as the time spent there by some good friends a few years ago has sold me on the idea and i am now looking into how we can get there on time and budget in a few months.

Back to frigid La Paz tomorrow, top temp of 7 degrees, a far cry from Rurre. I wish we had more time to stay her a while...


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16th June 2013

Power on
Well done guys. Loving the read ups. Neil you may wish to share some of that whiskey in your secret compartment with mojo to kill all those stomach bugs... Keep the blogs coming. It's nice to transend out of the daily grind to keep your sanity :-) PK

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